What have Mega Man X, Super Metroid, Super Mario World, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time and The Last of Us have in common? The too-easy answer is "they are all classic games, d'uh". By which you might mean "it was a lot of fun", "I genuinely cried at this certain point", or, I dunno, like: "looked glorious in 1080p". They well and truly grabbed you, and that's important.
Much more than that, the greatest games of a generation — it is my humble opinion — also carry you along. In an iron grip, I might add. But instead of complaining, "hey, this crap is on rails!" you feel as though you're learning Kung-Fu. One other thing: none of the games mentioned above feature a Tutorial option on the start menu. The games are one, massive, onion-layer after onion-layer voyage of discovery and motor-skill mastery. During their climactic scenes you marvel at how adept you have become, over many evenings and rainy weekend afternoons. Or sunny, whatever.
What these narrative-assisted action adventures boast above all is a rock solid solo Campaign. And just when you thought solo Campaign was going out of fashion — which I reckon it was e.g. Titanfall, Evolve, then more recently Rainbow Six: Siege and Star Wars Battlefront — along came Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 and shoved our faces into a clear 12-hour gauntlet of missions, loading them up with dozens of mission-specific Accolades to earn. There will be people playing Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of Black Ops 3 that won't know what the fuss is about, or having not to care, but on the current generation consoles and PC, I'm grateful to Treyarch for this decision. Not just that there is a Campaign menu option, but that it is so expansively explored. Like the good old days!
Now, this discussion shouldn't get bogged down with matters of storytelling. This is appreciating the mechanics to such a degree that you feel an affinity with the game and its designers. Black Ops 3 doesn't boast the classiest of dialogue - it's certainly no Generation Kill (which is based on real events anyhow). But it invests heavily, and methodically, in the Campaign in myriad ways.
Maybe all this is about Treyarch seeking a return on their investment. So many development hours in the biggest games pass us by at a rate of $100,000 per second. It's just 'stuff', seen near or far. By knuckling down on Campaign, Treyarch could be shining a spotlight on everything the team has made possible. The harder you work at those Accolades, the more you feel like shaking the hands of the guys that set the stage (or punching them in the face). It shows belief, either way.
Maybe more studios and publishers should consider this? Or, just leave it up to gamers to find their own nuanced approaches to games that have proven to have exciting core mechanics. This is the path taken by Star Wars Battlefront, which delivers on expectations raised by the awesome TV and cinema slots. You can get home, shed your day clothes, sit down in your pants and become a X-Fighter pilot or respected commander of a struggling team of nervous Stormtroopers. Barring a handful of Training Missions, however, we're not really guided in the ways of the Force. It's all to discover out there with your buddies on the battlefield. For me, this was disappointing.
Maybe it's because we've so much of the same in the blockbuster era that we wouldn't see much worth celebrating anyhow. But when this tradition was being forged, there were so many new takes on the side-scrolling action hero mission to save the world (or at least the Princess) that you could taste the desire to make an impact. Sonic the Hedgehog is a brilliant example: achieve all this in record times. At first glance the Green Hill Zone was a jolly spring-day with a bizarre mixture of waterfalls and iconic loops. Its layout was transformed when considering the optimum route.
I think what this really boils down to is how much game there is to enjoy, and how we are helped to discover it. It only goes to show how the stakes are being raised each year in terms of grabbing our attention, and holding it. And the ways we get to appreciate the hidden depths is being cunningly manipulated too, such as with the many Strikes and series of Raids introduced to Destiny, content that fuels so much community discussions, which is exactly as Bungie intended. These games are no longer a complete package with a start, middle and end. Even so, the developer is excited to make that handshake with the player, and by many accounts the feeling has been mutual so far.
To cut a very long train-of-thought short, my point is basically about not being thrown to the wolves but being trained to be a hunter. This doesn't always have to be easy to be fun. Kicking a football or hitting a squash ball is tricky. Having your face pushed into the mud isn't pleasant... but, it's fun! I'm saying that if a studio has gone all out to make an experience, that it really should consider how showing us the ropes ensures that we get everything we possibly can out of the whole business.
There's an old video from YouTuber Egoraptor that I especially want to share on this very subject. It's called 'Sequelitis - Mega Man Classic vs. Mega Man X' and, even though the guy shouts at you for twenty minutes, he's right on point with this thing. Even games like Super Mario World didn't make life easy for you from the word go, but inch by inch your understanding of the hero and (usually) his world becomes clearer and locked in place. I mean I raced up that Great Deku Tree when I played Ocarina of Time on 3DS, but on N64, having to learn about locking-on targets and so on, it was a major accomplishment. The first of so many.
Am I seriously suggesting that EA/DICE should have made Battlefront an action-RPG? Of course not. And what we absolutely don't want is developers tacking on half-hearted campaigns just for the sake of it; they've got to mean something, they've got to enhance the experience. As such this isn't a call for all games to simply aim at being a jack of all trades (and master of none), I'm just offering my thoughts on what the best Campaigns out there bring to the experience, in particular something that you really want to live.
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